Recently one of BP’s carriers experienced a truck tire fire while transporting our products. Fortunately no one was injured as a result of the fire; however, the potential for injury and environmental damage was great. As a result of the fire, the trailer and the products in it were heavily damaged.
On the day of the fire, the driver began driving at 6:30 am from a truck-stop located along an interstate highway. At 7:30 am, the driver noticed smoke coming from the left rear of the trailer.
He quickly pulled over onto the shoulder of the interstate to inspect the problem. As he was walking towards the trailer tandems he noticed that the smoke was getting much heavier and he could now see flames. He stated that he tried to put out the fire with his fire extinguisher, but quickly realized that it would not be sufficient to put out the fire. The driver then called 911 and reported the problem and his location. He then disconnected his tractor from the trailer and moved it forward away from the fire. The fire department responded to the scene and eventually put out the fire.
An inspection of the damaged trailer determined that the cause of the tire fire was from a trailer tire being run in an under-inflated condition. As the tire heated up it began to disintegrate and the steel cord eventually got caught in the axle area, stopping the tire from turning. The friction and heat caused by the dragging tire eventually led to the fire.
The driver admitted that during his pre-trip inspection, he had only observed the tires for tread wear/depth and did not check the tire pressure. Not only did this carrier’s policies include checking the air pressure on all tires during a pre-trip inspection, but Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations listed in Part 393.75 also state that no motor vehicle shall be operated on a tire that has a cold-inflation pressure less than that specified for the load being carried.
Tire fires on a vehicle are the result of an external heat source that results in the tire eventually reaching combustion temperature. Common sources of tires fires are malfunctioning brakes, wheel bearings, and under-inflated tires.
The friction from the external source causes heat to build up on the tire and once the tire reaches a temperature of 600 degrees Fahrenheit, combustion will occur. Often times, a tire will begin to burn after the vehicle has come to a stop, as the cooling effect of the airflow over the tire from the movement of the truck is no longer available.
Once a tire begins to burn, it is extremely difficult to extinguish and often times a driver will find that a fire extinguisher is insufficient. The best way to extinguish a tire fire is with a steady stream of water applied by professional fire fighters.
The best way to control a tire fire is to prevent it from happening in the first place. You can reduce the chances of experiencing a tire fire by complying with the FMCSA regulations on vehicle inspections and following these simple tips: